Max Kellerman, the Manhattan native who now lives in LA because he has a radio show ("Max and Marcellus") on LA-based 710 ESPN, gets due credit for skillfully steering a sitdown between rivals Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
"Can I say something? Can I bring a picture?" Cotto asks midway through this edition of "Face Off" on HBO.
This was not part of the script. Kellerman said he didn't know this was going to happen. An assistant then brought Cotto a tablet, and on the screen was a picture of a wrapped hand. Cotto said it looks like something is coming through the tape on the fist. That something looks dark, maybe unlike gauze, which is all that should be under the tape. Margarito responds that there's no smoking gun on that screen, and says he beat Cotto "fair and square."
The two men then debate, with Margarito telling Cotto the punches will feel just as hard on Dec. 3. Kellerman is like a director, watching two Oscar-worthy actors ply their craft. He is silent. He then asks Margarito what he thinks is on the fist and Margarito says it's nothing.
"This part of the faceoff was like a romantic fantasy of a screenwriter," the host said to NYFightBlog. "Most guys are not tech-savvy enough, are not going to use that hard evidence to prove a point. This was like out central casting, Cotto is such a mensch, a man's man, and a sensitive soul, and Margarito is like an outlaw."
Kellerman continued the interrogation, and the fighters continued to dispute what was on the screen. Margarito then skillfully shifted the subject. "You need strength to win ... so? What's the problem? You think I'm a cheater but I will beat you again."
One reason the show worked well is because Kellerman had his words translated into Spanish, and fed via earpiece into both men's ears, and their answers translated into English, and fed into his, in real time. (He told me he knew that having a person translate for each man would hamper the flow of the interaction.) When he used the word "fraud" while telling Margarito that he proved he wasn't one in his Nov. 2010 UD12 loss to Manny Pacquiao, I thought there would be a second-long language lag, and then Margarito would leap on Kellerman and throttle him. But the Mexican held his temper, and the session continued.
More fascinating ground was covered. The fighters discussed a boxer's willingness to die in the ring. Cotto said to be willing to die in a prizefight, when you have children, is stupid. "I am ready to die in the ring," Margarito says. He clarified, saying that he wants to fight till the final bell of every fight, even one he is getting stomped in, because he is always a threat to KO his foe.
"You going to die in the ring, for what? ... It's just my job," Cotto responds.
The trafficking on topic is another example of why I see boxing as the ultimate sport. It can entertain us, and also help us -- better than any other sport, and maybe better than any other entertainment, period -- figure ourselves out.
Kellerman stays on the theme, and seeks to comprehend better what makes the man who's willing to die in a prizefight tick.
They finish with a dramatic flourish. Margarito tells Cotto, "I beat you and I will do it again." Cotto says, "We'll see." They stare at each other, both fully intending to impose their will, skill and strength on the other man, both likely entertaining a nagging thought that this might not go their way.
"I'm so glad I'm calling this fight," says Kellerman, and we go black.
I'm not a paid endorser, so you know, but people, if you buy one pay-per-view a year, make it this one. The drama is real, the hype is authentic, the action will be copious, and furious.